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Muslim denied home stay in Japan: Dame Susan Devoy weighs in

1433806121722Sharif Steel, 15, was denied a year-long home stay in Japan because he is Muslim.

The Human Rights Commission has urged a New Zealand-based exchange organisation to work with a Dunedin teen who missed out on a year-long home stay in Japan because he is a Muslim.

Sharif Steel, 15, sent an application to take part in year-long home stay to Japan with World Youth Services, who later emailed him to say their Japanese counterparts had “a few questions about you being a Muslim”.

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy confirmed the Human Rights Commission had been in touch with the exchange organisers and “encouraged them to engage with their counterparts in Japan to address the problems that have arisen”.

“We also encouraged them to work with Sharif and his family to resolve this incident,” she said.

“Student exchanges are primarily about intercultural education and a key part of intercultural relations is to keep talking and to sort things out.”

Religious discrimination in New Zealand is unlawful under the Human Rights Act.

Steel had previously replied to the exchange organisation explaining his religion meant that “I just can’t eat pork and I sometimes fast”.

A fortnight later he was told it was impossible to find him accommodation because “basically every Japanese family eats pork”.

Steel, who has never eaten pork, responded by saying he was willing to “pick out the pork in my meals, or would that be a rude thing to do”, but his plea was rejected earlier this year.

“I blamed myself.”

Richard Ellis, of World Youth Services, said he was aware of the case. Steele’s application coincided with the capture and beheading of two Japanese nationals by Islamic State.

“The challenge was nothing to do with the boy, the fact was they were unable to find a Japanese family to host a Muslim.

“Unfortunately it coincided with the beheading of the Japanese people by ISIS and just the horror that had, and by association anybody that appeared to be in the least Islamic, was not considered.”

When asked why that message – rather than an email debate over his dietary requirements – wasn’t conveyed to the teenager, he replied, “we were upset as his family was”.


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